How Broadband Helped a Family Keep Going During COVID-19

Two young women using a laptop at home.

With their youngest child a freshman in college, Allison Wilhelm and her husband were adjusting to a quieter life as empty-nesters in North Carolina. But when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, life was turned on its head as their two daughters moved back home. Suddenly, the house was turned into a spontaneous family co-working space, with two people working remotely, one completing a college semester online and another in the process of applying to graduate schools. This is the story of how they made it work – thanks to creativity, cooperation, and broadband.

Sharing Space and Wi-Fi

“My quiet house became a whir of activity,” says Allison, the director of marketing for a heavy-duty trucking company. “I think the hardest thing for my family members was listening to my conference calls!”

With four adults sharing a house all day every day, space and privacy became primary issues, and it took coordination to make it work. Allison’s husband, an IT specialist, took to getting up very early and getting several hours of work in before the rest of the house began to stir. Her college-going daughter, meanwhile, chose to schedule self-directed classwork for later in the day. And although Allison has a home office, the rest of the family had to stake their claim to the kitchen table, the porch, or even the garage.

“My youngest might say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a Zoom class at a certain hour and I need you all to be quiet.’ Or my oldest might have an interview, tell us she’s going to be in a certain place, and ask us please not to walk in,” Allison says. “It became a question of scheduling and communication.”

In their efforts to keep four lives going during confinement, the family was aided by two distinct advantages: first, the high-speed internet provided by Allison’s company, aided by a booster router purchased to make sure the signal could reach all over the house. Besides a few occasional reboots, the service held up well. And second, the fact that their neighborhood is wired for broadband, meaning that the infrastructure was already in place to handle the family’s internet needs throughout the pandemic.

Challenges and Surprising Rewards

In Allison’s opinion, the quarantine period was harder on her daughters than on the parents. “The age of 18 to 22 is a time of big life transition,” she notes. “Our youngest had just adjusted to life on a campus and was pulled back home, while the oldest, who graduated in December, was just adjusting to not being on campus. At first, there was a lot of stress and anxiety just about life.” The siblings, though, took advantage of the time to bond. Besides exercising and having fun together, the older stepped in to help her younger sister choose classes for the fall semester when she was unable to meet with her advisor in person.

Another challenge came in the form of adjusting to distance learning. “With COVID, some classes didn’t transition well to an online format,” Allison explains. “In a classroom, there’s a lot of give-and-take that’s much harder to do online. My daughter’s a participatory student, and that’s harder to do with 30 people online. Everybody’s still struggling to figure this out.”

Living through a pandemic is hard, but there have been some surprising silver linings. Having the family back together again has been nice, Allison says, along with seeing more people out in the neighborhood, walking and riding their bikes. “We’re a close-knit community and it’s nice to see families spending more time together and supporting our small businesses,” she says. Out of the necessity of the crisis, a greater togetherness has formed.

Onward to the New Normal

After four months at home, Allison’s youngest daughter is now back on campus doing an internship and preparing for what will be an abbreviated fall semester. The eldest will be off to study a post-graduate degree in London, having to quarantine for two weeks once she gets there. And Allison’s husband is now back at the office part-time. “It’s been a surreal time,” she says. “It feels like a post-hurricane or post-snowstorm situation, but when you go out everything looks normal.”

The Wilhelms had high-speed internet and broadband connectivity to get them through the crisis. This good fortune, however, has not extended to many other parts of the country. To join us in our campaign to ensure that every American has access to quality broadband, sign our petition here.